On Making Change Happen
Awareness, Acceptance, Action
Change is tough. It’s uncomfortable, inconvenient and just an all-around pain in the ass. I have struggled with change in a million and one different ways and what has helped me the most is following a simple three-step process of awareness, acceptance and action.
I have successfully applied this practice to everything from oversleeping and weight gain to depression and lack of motivation. All different, yet the process for resolving each is exactly the same. Here's how I do it:
When faced with a situation or problem I wish to change, I need to be aware that there is an issue which can or must be changed and this takes honesty and courage. Take sobriety for instance; it’s become part of general wisdom that “the first step is admitting there’s a problem” — true for alcoholism and true for every other issue as well. When I have a tough time losing weight, then the first step might be to admit that I overeat (most likely true), or that I don’t exercise (probably also true). If I can be honest with myself about the reality of my circumstances, if I can look deep and identify unhealthy behavior, then I can begin starting to change it. But if I hold tight to denial and repeatedly tell myself that I can’t lose weight and I don’t know why, and then I sit down and eat an entire pizza by myself before laying down for my second nap of the day, well then I am not going to get very far. (Seriously though, who doesn’t eat the entire pizza??)
Practicing acceptance seems like the easy part, yet I find this step to be the most difficult of all. It’s very easy to tell myself that I have accepted something, but saying I accept something doesn’t actually make it true; it’s all just lip service and hope if nothing is backing it up. Take my weight gain struggle: if I claim to accept that I have gained weight and that it is the result of my overeating and lack of exercise but then continue to shame myself for being a big fatty and beat myself up every time I overeat, then I really have accepted nothing, I am just fighting myself and the situation. However, if I go to my favorite pizza shop, place an order for a large pie with the clear intention of eating the entire thing by myself, knowing full well that I will feel bloated and awful afterwards but decide it's all worth it for the wonderful experience of eating the delicious cheesy pizza, then I am starting to move into the acceptance phase. The key is recognizing the consequences of my choices and make the best of them instead of fighting them.
Often I take this even further and overindulge in the bad behavior; I eat multiple pizzas instead of one so I make myself sick of the very thing I am craving, I try to sleep for 20 hours if I am struggling to sleep less than 12 hours, I attempt to accomplish absolutely nothing if I am feeling bad about not getting enough done. Eventually the joy I experience from indulging my unhealthy behavior becomes diminished to the point where it no longer justifies the discomfort. Once I cease getting a payoff from embracing a bad choice or situation, then I am ready and able to behave differently.
My acceptance is demonstrated by action so it's pretty easy to recognize this stage, it begins the moment I start making better choices. The action phase is the sweet spot of the process and once I am in it, then I am well on my way to real change. At this point, I've had time to get comfortable with exactly where I am, I've let go of shame and judgment, and I recognize that anything I do or don't do, is entirely up to me. If I want to do something, great; if I don't want to do something, that's also great. When I am able to stop pressuring and analyzing myself, I basically create the perfect breeding ground for activity. I naturally begin moving more, waking up earlier, making things; I do the things which express the experience of becoming aware and practicing acceptance.
The action part of this process can go on indefinitely; generally, for however long it takes me to feel satisfied and accomplished. It can absolutely turn into a total lifestyle change if that's what I want, the choice is up to me.
These three steps are simple, but they are not necessarily easy. Making change happen can be some of the most difficult work, but it is never impossible. I have found that by looking at a situation through the lens of this process, I am able to break anything down into manageable parts. I become less overwhelmed and gradually more at ease with myself and my circumstances; I become willing to open my hands and receive the next possible thing instead of clinging to the past. I become capable of making change happen.